Baywest Mall set to become one of SA's most advanced malls

Uncomplicated, futuristic design will bring the fun back to shopping trips, says mall architect

With a brief to design a super-regional mall the size of 22 rugby fields on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, Cape Town based dhk architects has managed to bring to life one of South Africa’s most advanced yet intelligible shopping centres.

Ahead of the May 21 opening of the R1.7 billion, 90 000m² Baywest Mall – the largest of its kind in the Eastern Cape – executive chairman of dhk architects, Derick Henstra, explained the psychology behind building a mall that would excite and entertain, rather than confuse and disorientate.

Photo via Baywest Mall Facebook

“Our first thoughts were: what a daunting challenge to build something this big in an untouched landscape; and how does one stay sensitive and polite to the surroundings, so that mall doesn’t become this thing which visually impacts the environment,” said Henstra.

With a background in large commercial and hospitality projects, and advancing into the green building territory, dhk has become increasingly involved in retail work. The firm’s associate director Joe Struwig was lead design architect on the Baywest Mall project.

“We have a fresher, newer approach to retail, and Baywest Mall is one of those exercises,” said Henstra.

He explained the obstacles dhk had to overcome in designing a modern, easily navigable and enjoyable mall.

“We had to make Baywest visually appealing. For malls around the world, one of the most important aspects is the element of flow. They are often not very legible or user-friendly, so we wanted to create a mall that was an absolute pleasure to navigate,” said Henstra.

“The mall has a soft curve, so you can virtually see around the corner. It is also a tight race track, so it doesn’t feel like you are walking for kilometres on end. There is also a criss-cross, so you can cross over from one side of the mall to the other very easily.”

The uncomplicated design of the mall, said Henstra, achieves two objectives: it ensures the mall detracts from its natural surrounds as little as possible and keeps shoppers’ attention on the reason they are there in the first place – the stores.

Green building principles were also engaged wherever possible in the design, he said.

“Baywest has an abundance of wonderful natural light, which not only creates a friendly shopping environment, it also makes for an energy efficient centre,” Henstra said.

Something relatively new to large malls in SA is prismatic diffusers – small openings in the roof that transmit large amounts of natural light into the centre without transferring the heat gain, meaning the air conditioning system is not strained.

Another energy-saving technology, LED lighting, is also used throughout the mall.

“This is all paired with a remarkably intelligent air conditioning system that focuses on keeping the shops cool, with the spill-over cool air used to cool and ventilate the mall,” said Henstra. “It’s a clever way of being energy efficient.”

Being aware of shoppers with special needs was also an important part of the design brief, and for this reason Baywest Mall is designed with wheelchair access in mind.

“There are lots of easy ramps for wheelchairs, and the heights of tables in restaurants and the food court are designed to accommodate shoppers in wheelchairs. It’s part of making the mall friendly and easy for everyone to access,” said Henstra.

Speaking of the mall’s inclusion of a Fun Factory entertainment zone, Henstra said: “We’re bringing back the enjoyment of retail. Shopping is not just shopping – there is an element of entertainment. That’s what Baywest brings together.”

Speaking of the timeless aesthetic of the mall, Henstra said the mall’s design was “21st Century clean and honest architecture without the frills and curvaceous articulations which creep in”.

“It’s a futuristic mall. We wanted it to be a timeless piece of architecture. People relate to buildings they feel comfortable in.

“That’s what happens with this mall. Some malls are an incredibly tortuous experience, with long and confusing routes that are very distracting to the eye. It takes you away from the focus of the product, which is the shop and what it sells and what it stands for,” said Henstra.

“Baywest has a sense of tranquillity and neutrality, which highlights the stores and their products.”

Watch the video teaser from Baywest Mall

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